Tuesday, May 25, 2010

SPORTS>>’Rabbits already reloading

Leader sportswriter

If the Lonoke Jackrabbits were a Wall Street stock, their index graphic would give the most seasoned futures speculator fits with the losses and gains they’ve experienced since fall.

The Jackrabbits reached the 4A state championship last December on the strength of a stellar group of 15 seniors that included all-state running back Brandon Harris.

Harris, quarterback Michael Nelson and the other departed seniors have given coach Doug Bost some blanks to fill in. But, with the return of a number of players who sat out last season, most notably senior quarterback Logan Dewhitt, some blanks have been easier to fill than others.

A good turnout of underclassmen combined with Dewhitt and other reformed ’Rabbits have pushed Lonoke’s spring practice numbers close to 50, up from 33 this time last year.

“We had some kids that quit the team last year for various reasons, and stated that they wish they wouldn’t have,” Bost said.

“I’ve been pleased with how they’ve been working — wish they never would have quit in the first place, but they did — glad to have them back out here, and they’ve been working hard and want to earn some playing time.”

Bost said Dewhitt’s return should give the Jackrabbits a boost when they begin summer 7-on-7 games. Lonoke will participate in a weekly league in Searcy on Monday nights and will compete in the annual Sonic Air-Raid tournament at Harding University in early June.

The 7-on-7 schedule will include as many as 12 area teams from different classifications.

“He’s doing some good things,” Bost said of Dewhitt. “I’m excited for 7 on 7 this summer. I think he’s going to do a good job for us.”

Bost also said he anticipates playing close to 50 7-on-7 games before the end of summer as preparation for the fall.

Dewhitt appears to be a strong candidate for starting quarterback this year. Tarrell Watson will back up Dewhitt and is slated to line up at receiver. Both players standbetween 6-2 and 6-3 and possess good range, which is a change of pace from Lonoke’s previous two quarterbacks.

The offense spent the first week of practice on running plays and screen passes, and is focusing more on play-action and pass protection this week.

The shot in the arm to Lonoke’s passing game could prove to be vital for the Jackrabbits, who lost a premier running back in Arkansas Tech signee Smith and a mobile quarterback in Harris. The duo helped Lonoke to its berth in the championship, won handily by private school power Shiloh Christian at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock in December.

“That’s where I feel like I’m hurting a little bit, is running back,” Bost said. “We’ve got four or five sophomores, and maybe a senior we’re looking at. We’ve got options; we just need a couple to step up that we know we can count on.

“It might not be these two weeks, it might be on into August. I feel like someone is going to step up and take that spot.”

Bost, entering his second year, said conditioning is not a focus for the team this spring after a solid offseason. A stringent summer workout schedule is slated to begin in early July.

“We had kids who definitely got bigger, faster, stronger,” Bost said. “Coming off the success we had last year, they just want to build on that. They want to keep working hard, and they did that. There were about two or three days where they didn’t work that hard, but out of 70 or however many workout days we had, I think that’s pretty darn good.”